Secret Circle, the even-money favorite, held on to win the Grade 2 $500,000 Rebel Stakes on Saturday at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The win gave trainer Bob Baffert his third straight Rebel win, having won last year’s running with The Factor and the 2010 version with Lookin At Lucky. Secret Circle is owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, who also owned Lookin At Lucky.
Secret Circle and jockey Rafael Bejarano settled into fourth position before making their move going into the stretch. Secret Circle was able to overcome a game Scatman who held off the son of Eddington with only yards to go. D. Wayne Lukas’ Optimizer came flying late to split the two and grab second only ¾ of a length behind Secret Circle. Scatman finished another 1 ½ lengths behind in third.
The win marked the fifth win from six starts for Secret Circle and his first win at a distance longer than a mile. He proved that he could get the 1 1/16 mile distance and is well on his way to the 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby.
Two horses that turned in noteworthy performances in the Rebel were Optimizer and Najjaar.
Optimizer, ridden for the first time by Louisville-based jockey Jon Court, came flying late from the back of the field. At the top of the stretch he was fifth, but, after splitting Secret Circle and Scatman, was able to take second. Another 1/8 of a mile and he would have won the race. Although he hasn’t won since breaking his maiden on the turf last August, he has consistently taken on the top three-year-olds in this year’s crop. It could be that he’s finally found his niche or it could be that Court’s ability to navigate the Oaklawn course was what the son of English Channel needed to get him in the game.
Najjaar, who was making his stakes debut, was dead last through much of the race and was at times as much as six lengths behind the pack. It wasn’t until the field turned for home that jockey Calvin Borel had the colt within contention. Najjaar and Optimizer were stride-for-stride a few yards from home, but when Optimizer kicked on, Najjaar stayed behind. Najjaar finished sixth, but taking into account the distance he made up in such a short span of time, it was a nice run. He’ll likely be a horse that comes in fresh for the Preakness or Belmont Stakes and gives the Derby winner a run for his money.
Secret Circle paid $4.00, $3.20, and $2.80. Optimizer returned $15.60 and $8.80 and completed the $2 exacta for $123.20. Scatman paid $4.60 and completed the $1 trifecta for $295.50. Jake Mo completed the $1 superfecta for $3,577.10. The final time was 1:44.55.
Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Derby